Lessons From A Rivalry

As you may know about me, I am a major baseball fan. I just love everything about the game. I love the history, I love the time of year when it’s played. I love the ballparks, the crowds. This past weekend saw the renewal of a rivalry which goes back 120 years. The Giants and the Dodgers. The rivalry started when both teams were only 8 miles apart in New York City. The hatred between the teams was fierce. In 1956, the legendary player, Jackie Robinson, rather than accept a trade from the Dodgers to the hated Giants, retired! 

In 1958, both teams moved to the west coast from New York, and the rivalry continued. I want to focus on one of the more infamous moments from this rivalry, from August 22, 1965. If you’re not a baseball fan, please hang in there. There is a non-baseball point I’m going to make, so bear with me.

The Giants and Dodgers rivalry was fueled not just by geography, but by competition. The teams often were fighting, literally and figuratively for supremacy on the field. In late August, the competitive fire escalates as the regular season draws to a close, and teams are vying for the post season. One such season was 1965. For the first of only three times in their storied careers, future Hall of Famers Juan Marichal for the Giants, and Sandy Koufax for the Dodgers, pitched against each other. It was a Sunday afternoon, and all eyes in the baseball world were on Candlestick Park in San Francisco. 

Some bad blood between the two teams had built up between them earlier in the series, and Sunday’s game would reach the boiling point. In the picture to the right, you’ll see the culmination of this inevitable eruption. Juan Marichal, #27, took exception to a throw from the catcher, Johnny Roseboro, that grazed Marichal’s ear when he was at bat. Marichal was widely regarded as one of the nicest guys in all of baseball. Mild mannered, but a fierce competitor. In this moment, he snapped. He hit Roseboro over the head twice with glancing shots, drawing blood. This incident marred Marichal’s reputation, and lives to this day as a dark cloud over his head. 

However, this is where the story gets good. 

Marichal was very remorseful and repentant over this incident. He was quick to offer public apologies, but Dodger fans would not forgive Marichal for his actions. Their reaction to him was vitriolic for many years. But during this time, Roseboro had forgiven Marichal. He chose not to let it affect him. It was over and done with.

In 1975, Juan Marichal’s contract with the Giants had expired. He was free to sign with another team if he wanted. Of all the teams, he wanted to play for the Dodgers. It was a personal obstacle he felt he needed to overcome. He needed to wipe this incident from his reputation, and this was the way he felt he could do this. Dodger fans would have none of it. They were violent in their reaction to the signing. But it wasn’t until the then-retired Johnny Roseboro publicly announced his forgiveness of Marichal that things started to change in the hearts and minds of the fans. Not only did Roseboro forgive Marichal, but he took responsibility for the incident, admitting that he purposely threw the ball back to the pitcher close to Marichal’s face. He provoked Marichal, not expecting to be attacked with a bat. 

In the years to follow, Marichal and Roseboro became close friends. After their playing days were over, Roseboro would fly to Marichal’s native Dominican Republic to participate in a charity golf tournament hosted by Marichal. They played together at Old Timers games where the soft spoken men were more than comfortable having pictures taken of them smiling and showing off their deep friendship. 

In later years, Roseboro suffered from heart problems, and had two strokes. Marichal regularly kept in touch with Johnny and his family, offering his friendship and support. Finally, in 2002, Roseboro died from prostate cancer. The first person Roseboro’s wife called was Juan Marichal in the Domincan. She asked him if he would be kind enough to speak at the funeral, and Marichal didn’t hesitate.  

In this story, we see the redemptive power of forgiveness, humility, honesty and personal responsibility. As the most bitter of rivals, fueled by intense competition, people can be prone to doing terrible things. But forgiveness released both men from the infamy of that moment. Instead, that horrific incident served as a catalyst to a friendship and a connection that could only come through a mutual passion. Even though they were on opposite sides, they had something greater that served as a bond. 

I know there have been people in my life I’ve had silent rivalries with. I know many people who have had them with me. Sometimes they’re only one way. Sometimes it’s mutual. There comes a point when you have to let it go. At the funeral, Juan Marichal said Roseboro’s “forgiving (me) was one of the best things that happened in my life.” 

You hold the keys to releasing someone, and yourself from the bondage of unforgiveness. Learn the lesson from this baseball experience. It’s not too late. Even if the other person isn’t living anymore, you can forgive them. Other people may hold on to negativity because of the wrong that happened to you. You can release them from their unforgiveness by being forgiving, just as Roseboro did. You can bring peace.

The only way to go from rivalry to friendship is through forgiveness. 

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